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6 Jul, 2015

Religious harmony in Bangladesh as Buddhist monks share food with Muslims

DHAKA, July 5 (Xinhua) — Not far from Dhaka’s main railway station in Kamalapur, two contemplative traditions are producing a surprising and timely insight. Muslims, who are encouraged to ponder the grace of creation during the month of fasting, and Buddhist monks, who live a strict, rule-bound life of meditation, are building bridges of interfaith harmony over food.

The monks of Kamalapur Bauddha Vihara, whose daily meals are gathered during alms rounds, are offering their Muslim neighbors iftar meals during the Muslim month of Ramadan.

This happy communion of communities feeds more than hungry mouths, it nourishes the very spirit of peaceful co-existence, mutual respect and humanity that took root in the Bengal delta in eras past and continues to be the bedrock of this society.

Interfaith engagement experts routinely say that one of the most effective ways to bring people together is to share a meal and this effort by Kamalapur’s monks has proved to be a great success.

Many Muslims who are observing the break of the fast with their Buddhist friends reinforce a tradition of co-celebration that is seen at other times of the year, including the taziyyah of Muharram, the sarbojonin Durga Puja, the lighting of sky lanterns at Buddha Purnima, feasting at the two Eids and, the song and merriment of Pahela Boishakh.

Visiting the spot on Friday, a long queue of poor people especially women were seen collecting their iftar packets from the hands of Buddhist monks. Most of the people standing in the queue were women.

“I work as a house helper in different houses. Every year, I come here to collect my iftar packet. In mosques, men can take their iftar but there is no option for women to collect iftar from any place. This temple is simply a blessing for poor and helpless women,” Rashida Begum, a 70-year old woman told Xinhua.

When asked how she feel to collect iftar from a Buddhist temple, Josna Begum said, “It was not written that this food should not be from Buddhist people. Food does not have any religion. We are grateful to them (Buddhist temple people) for their service to the poor people.”

Buddhist temple people said the iftar distribution program started at 5:30 p.m. everyday. Women and men have to stand in different queues for collecting iftar.

“Everyday usually we distribute 300 packets of iftar items among the poor Muslims. It is a religious service to stand beside the poor and helpless people. We are just doing it as part of our religion,” Sanghanayaka Suddhananda Mahathero, chief patriarch of Supreme Sangha of Mahanikaya Bangladesh, told Xinhua.

He also said the iftra distribution program among the poor people started in 2013 by a Singaporean giving funds for the iftar program.

“Though this year, we did not get any fund from any donors, we are continuing the program without funds. We find peace when we distribute food among the poor people. I hope the program will continue in the future,” he added.

The chief patriarch also said, “It is not only a religious service but a social service too. We are all Bangladeshi. We believe that this program will cement cultural and religious harmony among the people. Peace and stability will prevail in the society and communal riots will stop.”

Professor Mohammad Aktaruzzaman, a teacher of Islamic History at the University of Dhaka, said, “It is a very good initiative as this will strengthen the religious harmony in Bangladesh. They (Buddhists) showed respect to another religion. They proved that humanity is above all. This is the spirit of religion that all should follow.”

“They are not only distributing food among poor people rather they are preaching the message of peace and peaceful co-existence between religions.”